If you want to play a story with the visual stylings of Junji Ito coupled with the Old Gods worship of H.P. Lovecraft, look no further. For those unfamiliar, Junji Ito is a famed manga artist and writer in Japan whose work has spun off into horror movies, mainly in the style of odd or off-putting imagery and people losing their minds. Similarly, H.P. Lovecraft is an author who created his own style of horror that also emphasizes insanity and cosmic Old Ones who hope to awaken from their slumber and take over the planet. World of Horror is a title that’s been in Early Access on Steam for years yet is just now seeing an official 1.0 release. With few games to date that use this combination of 1- or 2-bit visuals with Lovecraftian horror, World of Horror will satisfy this niche well. Many will fall in love with the grotesque in monocolor, but is it for everyone?
World of Horror offers a custom-made introductory mission that takes ten to twenty minutes to complete. Here, players can learn in easy-breezy fashion how the nuts and bolts of 1984 Japan play out in old PC glory. For the majority of the game, however, players engage in a roguelite where the heroine is tasked with solving five mysteries to earn five keys. These five keys unlock an ominous lighthouse that hasn’t been entered in years. The five missions play out in bite-sized stories wherein players visit locations, have encounters, and occasionally fight monsters. Being a roguelite, players never know what multiple-ending mystery they have to solve or how that scenario necessarily plays out. Whether you beat the game or not, rinse and repeat just for the sake of seeing what new, creepy encounters and endings unlock.
For the most part, an entire run is likely to last anywhere from an hour to two hours, though I can see veterans blasting through campaigns in less than an hour. World of Horror’s appeal is completely contingent on each scenario’s creativity and shock value. Again, the roguelite aspect is critical here: you never know what’s in store, but each scenario has the same skeletal structure. As an example, one mystery sets you as a recluse stuck in an apartment. The goal is to get out. Now, how players explore the apartment or engage with the knick-knacks in that place will likely unlock different endings, but the random encounters each day will vary.
The loop here is to go to a place, interact with the environment somehow, and have an encounter. This encounter may result in combat with an enemy or pit one of your core stats against the event to see if you passed a check, which will result in some small bonus or penalty. That ends one day, and then players will do the same thing over and over until the ending happens. Start the next mystery. It really is that simple.
Combat isn’t that complicated, either, but all the buttons will make you think it is. World of Horror has a decent tutorial for everything, but players may take a while to get accustomed to all of the options, such as looking for a weapon during combat, committing a weak or strong attack, buffing the next attack, calling on allies, setting up a dodge, and so on. For the most part, I had success finding a decent weapon, sticking with it, and then just buffing and attacking; I rarely needed to do anything fancy. When deciding actions, a timer bar fills in with every action taking a different amount of time. A strong, heavy weapon might take a while to swing, while a lighter weapon will do less damage and take less time. Overall, I found combat to be a distraction from the otherwise macabre, engrossing weirdness I wanted to see in each mystery.
Players can level up and gain stats or perks that offer small bonuses. Stats don’t play a huge role in the game aside from serving as random checks to random events. Increasing knowledge, strength, dexterity, or whatever else is mostly a shot in the dark, as players never know if they’re coming upon a certain event that will check a given stat. For this reason, World of Horror plays more like an adventure game than an RPG. Managing inventory and speccing a character are obviously RPG elements, but the sheer amount of randomness and reliance on the mini-episodes takes all of the strategy out of the game. World of Horror is all about seeing what weird stuff happens when I do this or that.
I would also never call World of Horror scary. Some of the imagery can be offputting, as one might experience in a Junji Ito manga, but, at most, this is a creepy game. Given the visual style—think something akin to Shadowgate on the NES—being genuinely frightened is difficult. Also, each mystery’s under 20-minute playtime makes establishing suspense challenging.
Fortunately, the eerie, MIDI-esque soundtrack is phenomenally composed. Each track establishes suspense when it needs to or quietly accentuates the heavy mood. Need a feeling of urgency? Got that covered, as well. Of course, given the art direction, the MIDI-like instrumentation is practically essential, but it also stands firm on its own as well-created music. Certainly, the music only supports a title that eagerly seeks to get in your head and fill you with wonder.
Unfortunately, the abundance of buttons that somehow blend with the environment creates a cumbersome experience, at least out of the gate. Figuring out what can be interacted with is a chore initially, but then opening up the inventory and inspecting an item can also be a daunting chore as nearly twenty buttons fill the display. Now, most of those buttons are clearly crossed out with the clickable ones highlighted plainly, but the presentation is daunting and doesn’t really pop. Aside from that, keeping an eye on all sorts of other stats and menus takes away from an otherwise clean experience.
World of Horror remains dependent on its writing, visuals, and quantity of randomized events. Once the well runs dry on new encounters, World of Horror loses its luster. Clicking quickly through repeat events reminds oneself that this is a game and not a cursed town in 1980s Japan. That said, completionists and horror enthusiasts will find much replay value as several missions create an air of variability, each with two, three—sometimes four—unique endings. This is a competently made game with much to appreciate, though repeat material and a bogged-down user interface stymie the otherwise delicious mood.